High Levels of Iron in the Body Leads to Decreased Healthspan and Lifespan

​Broad new research has found proof that blood iron levels could play a crucial part in impacting how long you live. Usually, it is best to take longevity studies with a grain of salt, but the new paper is remarkable in its breadth, analyzing genetic information for more than one million people across three different public databases.

The study also focused on three main measures of aging: lifespan, healthspan, which are years lived free of disease, and longevity.

Too Much Iron Affects Both Our Lifespan and Healthspan​

Throughout the research, ten key regions of the genome were proved to be related to these measures of long life, as well as gene sets associated with how the body metabolizes iron.

Simply put, having too much iron in the blood seemed to be connected to an increased risk of dying earlier.

“We are very excited by these findings as they strongly suggest that high levels of iron in the blood reduce our healthy years of life, and keeping these levels in check could prevent age-related damage,” says data analyst Paul Timmers, from the University of Edinburgh in the U.K. “We speculate that our findings on iron metabolism might also start to explain why very high levels of iron-rich red meat in the diet has been linked to age-related conditions such as heart disease.”

While correlation doesn’t always mean causation, the scientists used a statistical technique known as Mendelian randomization to decrease bias and attempt to deduce causation in the data.

Micrograph of liver biopsy showing iron deposits due to haemosiderosis, the most important cause of iron overload. [Image: Wikipedia]
As researchers detail, genetics are believed to have around a ten percent influence on lifespan and healthspan, and that can make it rather hard to pick out the genes involved from all the other aspects, such as smoking, eating, and drinking habits. 

Other Genes are Also Capturing the Aging Process

Five of the genetic markers the scientists found had not previously been considered significant at the genome-wide level. Some, such as APOE and FOXO3, have been particularly discussed in the past as being important to the aging process and human health.

“It is clear from the association of age-related diseases and the well-known aging loci APOE and FOXO3 that we are capturing the human aging process to some extent,” the researchers write in their published paper.

Besides genetics, blood iron is usually controlled by diet and has already been associated with a few age-related diseases, such as Parkinson’s, and liver disease. It also impacts our body’s capacity to fight off infection as we get older.

This latest research can be added to the increasing evidence that ‘iron overload’ or not being able to break it down properly, can have an impact on how long we’re likely to live, as well as the health status we’re likely to be in our later years.

“Our ultimate aim is to discover how aging is regulated and find ways to increase health during aging,” says Joris Deelen, who studies the biology of aging at the Max Planck Institute for Biology of Ageing in Germany. “The ten regions of the genome we have discovered that are linked to lifespan, healthspan, and longevity are all exciting candidates for further studies.”

The paper detailing the findings has been published in Nature Communications.

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